ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis outfield wasn’t a model of consistency in 2014. While Matt Holliday manned his familiar spot in left field all season, five other outfielders were deployed in a mix-and-match concoction to find the right formula in center and right.
Much of that was driven by the search for reliable offense, but in examining the outfield defense, the chemistry that comes from routinely working together was tough to until late in the second half. Still, the outfielders get an B+ for 2014, with several players drastically improving their defensive numbers.
Holliday has never been considered a defensive wizard, and 2014 wasn’t exactly a Gold Glove campaign. However, Mike Matheny said at the beginning of the season the 34-year-old made defense a point of emphasis for the year and it showed.
Holliday was far more aggressive in the field than last season, showing more range and dramatically improving the amount of runs saved. A quick comparison:
Runs saved is the number of runs above or below average a player was worth based on number of plays made.
Runs saved: -13
Range factor: 1.67
Put outs: 212
Runs saved: 0
Range factor: 1.72
Put outs: 249
2014 was the best defensive season he’s had since 2010 in nearly every category. The errors are up, but that’s to be expected when he’s making a conscious effort to get to more balls and challenging himself more often. He made 99.6 percent of all routine plays, and made 25 percent of the eight even (40-60 percent chance) plays on the year. The latter number is the highest since Inside Edge fielding data was available.
He’ll never be Peter Bourjos, but Big Daddy improved his play in left. If he can maintain 2014’s standard combined with his powerful arm, he will keep himself from being a liability in the outfield, though it’s likely Matheny will continue the game plan he used in the second half, removing Holliday after his late-game at bat and upgrading in the field if there’s a lead to protect.
This position is tricky since the defensive options are being driven by offensive production. Jon Jay was the most common face in center, turning in an impressive season on both sides of the ball. He made 99.5 percent of all routine plays, committed only two errors and posted the best numbers of his career when it came to runs saved.
Peter Bourjos is one of the fastest players in the majors, and his range is certainly among the game’s elite. Many of the catches Jay ended up making with a dive or a slide, Bourjos can make standing up. His speed helped him post a 50 percent success rate on plays considered unlikely to be made, and he made 7.7 percent of the plays with a remote possibility of success (1-10 percent).
Bourjos has the better arm as well, but Jay’s skill as a hitter makes playing time hard to come by for the speedy 27-year-old. Jay may not have the same physical tools, but he proved in 2014 he can still keep balls off the ground. His ability to make spectacular catches prevented many big innings, and though those same plays may look routine for Bourjos, Jay is the more complete player currently.
The nice thing for St. Louis is neither option is a bad choice. One has to wonder how many full layouts and crashes into walls Jay can endure before he starts to break down, but the position is solid for the Birds.
With the departure of Allen Craig, Mike Matheny was afforded a chance to test drive the organization’s Triple-A outfielders. Randal Grichuk ended up winning the spot, and looking toward 2015, would be the incumbent if personnel remains the same.
Grichuk was drafted ahead of Mike Trout in 2009, and this season Cardinal fans saw glimpses of the tools that made him so intriguing. Grichuk has above average-defense, making 100 percent of routine plays in right and 100 percent of the unlikely plays (10-40 percent chance of being made). He showcased his arm in the NLCS, when he threw a laser to the plate with a man on third in Game 2, bringing Busch Stadium to life by keeping the runner put. His speed and instincts are tremendous, and his power ability at the plate makes him a candidate for everyday action.
Oscar Taveras was saddled with astronomical expectations leading up to his debut, and after he homered in his first game, everything else seemed to be a letdown for fans. His bat had flashes of the power he showed in Triple-A, but his defense was never close to Grichuk’s.
It became apparent Taveras was not MLB-ready in right field, often taking circuitous routes to balls and seemingly feeling his way through the position in his first season of major league action. His arm isn’t a liability, but it certainly isn’t game-changing.
His bat may project to be tremendous, but he trails Grichuk in every category on defense. However, Taveras is only 22 and after missing a significant chunk of 2013 with ankle problems, he still has an experience deficit. He can only improve in the field.